a little east of reality

Sunday, July 10, 2005

technology we take for granted

I found this interesting:
Kenyan journalist John Kamau is in Scotland for the G8 summit and is writing about his experiences for the BBC News website. In Kenya he works as a senior reporter on the Sunday Standard newspaper.

He writes:
When stories like this break, what amazes me is the level of technology that the Western colleagues have.
They can send pictures and sound instantly while I have come here armed only with the basic tools of my trade - a pen and paper. For today I had to phone through my copy.
Some have camped here with broadcasting vans the like of which I have never seen in my career. What if we had access to this kind of kit in Africa? Wouldn't it help information get out faster?
Wouldn't it help information get in faster, too? I think most people assume that the internet is everywhere. I should know better. After all, it was only last year that I researched spectrum auctions in Nigeria. In Africa mobile telecommunication services are spreading rapidly because they're so much easier to roll out than traditional land lines. Rather than getting land lines first as we did, they are going straight to mobile. Similarly, they will likely have wireless broadband before any other. Still, these things are only just being rolled out in the last few years, and being without a phone at all is still the norm in much of the continent.

I'm lost if I'm without my computer even for a few days. The first thing I do when I travel to a new place is figure out where the nearest internet cafe is. And I take it for granted there will be one to find. This Kamau guy is a working journalist on an international assignment and he doesn't even have a laptop. He's not emailing his copy - he's phoning it in. When I read this I was immediately transported back in the dim recesses of my past to a time when carbons were still used instead of photocopiers, and edits had to be retyped from scratch, every time. I can barely remember it. It's like the moment faster, easier things took their place I simply erased them from my mind like a bad memory.

It's amazing actually how easy it is to forget. I think of Japan as the place where I had super fast broadband and uncapped download, and where the mobiles that cost hundreds now in Australia (with colour screen, camera, net access, email, games, etc) came free with my $30 plan. Yet that was only in my last year there. Only a few years earlier when I arrived, Japan was a technological wasteland (mobiles excluded...they were always cool). No ADSL and timed local calls meant that internet was almost non-existent - dial-up simply cost too much. I had to travel into the city for the privilege of paying an exorbidant fee to hurriedly email home. Many Japanese I knew had no home computer and certainly no internet. At school 60 or so teachers shared 4 hours per month of internet time. Broadband changed everything.

And that was Japan. Obviously Africa is still waiting.